This debut middle-grade fantasy novel finds three children drawn into a magical quest to find other kids who went missing decades ago.
Ten-year-old Chelzy Stone, her parents, and her 12-year-old brother, Matthew, moved to Simonsville, Pennsylvania, a year ago. As summer approaches, she and Matthew are ready to enjoy their vacation from school. Matthew plans to read comics and play video games, and Chelzy hopes to explore the group of trees—or “Magic Woods,” as Grandpa Stone calls them—behind their home on Sycamore Street. One day, she glimpses what looks like a black-cloaked woman in flight near the trees, and it naturally stokes her imagination. She’s also excited to meet her new neighbor, a shy 11-year-old girl named Tory Herold. The new girl introduces the siblings to an old board game called The Lost and Found Game, which her Uncle Tony gave her. Eerily, the game’s cards feature pictures of black dust and a scrap of black cloth, which match real-life objects that Chelzy and Matthew recently found outside. Later, Grandpa Stone tells the kids about three Sycamore Street children who went missing in 1982, supposedly carried off into the woods by black birds. Do Chelzy, Matthew, and Tory dare investigate the Magic Woods themselves? After all, The Lost and Found Game ends with a challenge involving a Dark Queen. Procopio’s debut blends the dazzling splendor of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with structured magic that’s reminiscent of that in the Harry Potter series. It’s the colorful parade of characters that steals the show, however, including the Bright Queen and Melzabod, a blue unicorn who guides the kids through such areas as the Sea of Weeping Willows. Indeed, animal helpers abound, making it tough for “The Trio,” as the third-person narrator calls them, to err too badly. However, the author eventually adds a plot twist that forces Chelzy and company to rely on their own skills. She also adds real-life nature facts, including an explanation of the difference between evergreen and deciduous trees. A warm, thoughtful ending leads toward a sequel.
A sharp, rainbow-colored tale that’s sure to entertain and teach young readers.